Why Lynx’s 180 is a big deal for all of us

Lynx/Axe “Find Your Magic”

In January 2016 Unilever’s Axe/Lynx tapped into the connection between men’s mental health issues and unhealthy definitions of masculinity (of which the brand admitted they were partly responsible for) to forge the brave new direction ‘Find Your Magic’.

The platform aimed to shed itself of its “spray more, get more” sexual conquering brand image and tackle definitions of modern male masculinity to encourage men to be true to themselves, whoever they may be. And it’s worked. Purchase intent is up, the global growth rate has tripled and other metrics have gone through the roof. Check out the full UK case study here and the shift in advertising below.

The old Lynx Effect TV advertising “Spray more, get more’’
The new Lynx/Axe ‘Find Your Magic’ campaign

I remember this launching and thinking it was a very big deal, especially given some of the statistics I was reading around the health of boys and men in Australia and around the world. But the lack of conversation or hype here seemed to counter my initial excitement. Maybe because it hadn’t activated here yet, maybe something else was going on, or maybe Australia wasn’t quite ready for the Aussie male stereotype to be challenged. But the fact that one of the biggest marketers to young men made the strategic and creative decision to do a near 180 from the past means it’s worthy of a conversation, especially when you understand the parallels between the US, UK and Australian markets.

Since the global campaign release by 72andSunny, further local initiatives have been unveiled, with #meninprogress, bigger than suicide (both from TMW in the UK) and #isitokayforguys launching this year. The latter forming part of a US/UK collaboration with Ditch The Labels, a leading charity in gender equality and anti-bullying. Their study found that over 70% of men have been told that a “real man” should behave a certain way and that this pressure to conform causes greater risks of bullying, depression and ultimately suicide.

Lynx UK’s #meninprogress content series
Global pro-equality and anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label’s partnership with Lynx

Where did this shift come from?

This dramatic shift came from Unilever and their agency 72andSunny wanting to future proof the brand and ensure its sustained success around the world. In doing so, they uncovered a series of powerful and interconnected insights, revealing the brand was part of a significant problem around male masculinity definitions resulting in men’s mental and physical health implications. Not only was this helping perpetuate a social issue, they predicted it would eventually cause a sales issue too if not course-corrected. Even crediting the powerful documentary on boys masculinity conditioning (which I all recommend you watch, it’s available on Netflix), The Masks We Live In, as inspiration behind the campaign.

Inspiration behind the shift in direction for Unilever’s Axe/Lynx

Issues facing men in Australia

These issues facing men and masculinity are not isolated to the UK and US. Research by the Blackdog Institute here in Australia found that one of the four leading contributors to men’s mental health issues and associated behavioural problems is the unhelpful, unhealthy and ultimately destructive definitions of masculinity, the ‘tough, stoic Aussie bloke’ in particular. This has resulted in Australian boys and men being more likely to express homophobic, misogynistic and racist traits. Over indexing in drug and alcohol abuse, violence and sexual aggression. And most alarmingly, higher rates of anxiety, depression and ultimately suicide. This is clearly an inclusive issue that not only effects men but women, families, partners and friends too.

But things are shifting here in Australia if you look closely. The ABC series Man Up led by Triple M Host Gus Worland, the growing conversation around sporting idols battles with mental health (Buddy Franklin, the NRL State of Mind project), the growth in men’s mental health charities and support programs and the focus in schools around boys to men’s rites of passages are just a some of the initial indicators that Australians are beginning to reject these old-fashioned norms.

ABC’s Man Up series campaign TV ad

What I believe

Having been a man growing up trying to conform to these definitions, and the personal struggles that came with it, I believe the Axe/Lynx brand just said what many young men were hoping was true. That I don’t conform to this one dimensional definition of masculinity and that’s okay. In fact if I’m true to myself and I stand strong in that then that’s my definition of masculinity, and that’s the only thing that counts.

In advertising we love creating and playing to stereotypes, it’s what we do. So it’s important to recognise when a stereotype is shifting.

The Lynx/Axe shift in direction deserves a serious conversation with any brand marketing to men (and the women who buy for them). Not just for communications and commercial successes, but it clearly matters for the health of men and families in Australia and by association the health of our industry too.

It’s time to ‘Man Up’ and think differently about what it means to be a man in 2017. If not for your brands and clients, for yourselves and your loved ones.